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Let me say up front this is not a hard sci-fi book, it's character and story driven. So I just need some plausible answers.

I'm trying to restrict characters to using basic weaponry and technology. One way is having a desert planet torn by continual dust and sand storms. Visibility is often low and aiming a projectile weapon would be difficult. Basically wind is almost always blowing. Because of that, the natives never really made projectile weapons. They stuck to things like spears/pikes, even putting charges into them like cattle prods. And of course knives and such.

But if I came from Earth, would this be enough to deter me from say using a regular gun? (Let's assume lasers/plasma guns are not around yet).

Would the constant blowing sand and dust build up static electricity, and if so, would it be enough to mess with your tech? Such as communications, whether radio, wireless or satellite.

I've read a couple posts on magnetic fields, and they quickly got very scientific. I was thinking of adding a strong magnetic field to also make technology act weird. Could it be strong enough to do that, but not so strong that it would actually pull metal items around?

Any other ideas on making modern tech be unreliable would be great. Again, doesn't have to be overly scientific.

This is supposed to be a colony planet where people have settled to farm a valuable local resource.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you want to limit the use of weapons (technology is maybe a bit broad ...) only outside or have the natives of the planet not invented inside yet or do you want a solution where people also wouldn't use a gun inside let's say a building or a cave or wherever people live? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 20 '17 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose you could use a gun inside. But most of the activity here takes place outside, that's the key. The natives do not build houses per se, although the spend some time in caves. But I also want technology to be limited. When characters go out into the main desert area, I want them to be on their own, with no real hope for using technology like GPS, phones, networks, etc. The idea is that it's almost like the wild west on the colony. Yes it's the future, but I don't want them having all the comforts of Earth. Plus, there's no network of satellites orbiting the planet. $\endgroup$ – MajorTom Aug 20 '17 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Have you considered that earth people just didn't bring e.g. a gun with them? Every piece of equipment people shoot into space is carefully selected and only brought up if absolutely needed. A gun certainly wouldn't be on my list for things to take on a space trip. Also there are still large parts on earth where technology does not work reliably. For example, in my living room I do not have cell phone reception. For modern technology to work you need to invest heavily into infrastructure. I would think about it if this problem can't be solved in a straight-forward way $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 20 '17 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Fair thought, but let's say bringing stuff isn't an impediment. There are jump ships that can take significant enough loads. If they wanted guns, they could have them. $\endgroup$ – MajorTom Aug 20 '17 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ Re: orbital infrastructure -- it's a lot easier to put infrastructure in orbit around something when you're arriving from space vs. when you're stuck on the rock :) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Aug 20 '17 at 21:07
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You could simply have the dust with a large iron ore content. Magnetite forms natural magnets, which sounds like exactly what you want.

Dust also affects precision parts, like the barrel and chambers of firearms. Sufficient dust (sand/grit) will scrape the barrels and ruin the rifling, turning your modern firearm into a musket. Smaller amounts can affect the moving parts within the weapon. Simpler firearms are more resistant to such damage, but modern automatic weaponry would be badly damaged by iron sand flying around.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a good suggestion. I will look into that. Would that affect communications? $\endgroup$ – MajorTom Aug 20 '17 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ It should; thousands of tiny magnets flying around will create at lot of interference. Plus the fact that the dust is conductive, like iron filings, so it will short out exposed contacts $\endgroup$ – nzaman Aug 21 '17 at 11:49
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If you're not too sold on the idea of a desert planet, a thick rainforest jungle would do the trick. Just like in Vietnam, the dense forest would render the long-range and even beyond-visual-range capabilities of modern weapons nearly on pair with melee weapons, while the wet weather would quickly take a toll on nearly all kind of modern technology, even supposedly water-proof. Rain and trees would also hamper all kind of communications.

EDIT

As you want it to be a desert, I'd go with @nzaman answer (I had upvoted it even before writing my own answer). An idea I have had as an afterthought: if the gravity is not too high but the air pressure is similar to Earth - so that it is normally breathable by humans - you could have constant dust clouds in your desert.

The dust would create a fog reducing visibility to just a few meters away. In these conditions, firearms are not very useful - they need ammo, the dust spoils them quickly, and are not that good in very close combat, for they lack in stoping power (you can shot someone and he still can cut off your head with his sword before dying) and are prone to friendly fire in the mayhem of a melee. Communications would work unless you add the magnetite nzaman suggested, but it's not that useful either. How do you communicate your position when you can't see where you are? With no GPS, which depends of a network of already deployed satellites, the only way to find you is with triangularization of your signal, but you need to keep on transmitting to do that, and batteries run off - and you can't recharge them.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a good point. I'm entrenched in this desert idea, but maybe not so far that I couldn't change. How close could a desert desert-like area be to a rainforest? $\endgroup$ – MajorTom Aug 21 '17 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @MajorTom Well, rainforests and deserts are like quite the most opposite biomas you can have, I'm afraid. I'll try my best in an edit, though. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Aug 22 '17 at 8:20
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In many novels restrictions were made by some gatekeepers. It could be ancient aliens or just Intergalactic police - someone who implicitly or explicitly bans weapons on this planet.

For aliens it could be some mystic i.e. you don't need deep explanations.

  • Shooter got reflected bullet
  • There is some field around the planet. Every gun is got broken in this field.
  • Desire to kill/shoot causes headache

There are some resons for explicit ban from humans. The rules so strict that it's almost impossible to get gun even in a grey market

  • Scientists studying local culture so no modern technic allowed
  • The planet is a wildlife sanctuary so no weapons at all. You could use petards at best. A predator could eat you but you can't hurt it
  • It's too dangerous to get guns for aborigens

And mysterious reasons. Something strange happens and scientist don't know the answer:

  • Coriolis force acts unpredictably without clear reason. It makes aiming impossible
  • Explosives explodes unpredictably
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Death World

Agressive local life and remains of old technology.

  • local animals will avenge any harm done to kin (think humans, Anograch , Pig zombie, or a certain trope namer novel by H.Harrsion). And with a growth factor of 100000% of the Earth's animal, you'll run out of any resources very quick, your defenses will be downed by walk-in tons of biomassa and your average supply chain is what, a single orbiter that can't even land in all that jungle. Zerg win.
  • spirits don't like it and will haunt you for any harm
  • there are omnipresent nanobots in the air. Once provoked, they'll go for your tech and YOU - ancient grey goo scenario.
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Important temperature changes.

  • Movile parts often need lubricant, and the properties of a lubricant are highly dependent of the temperature; too cold and they solidify, too hot and they lose viscosity and their lubricant properties, maybe even to the point that they leak.

  • Electronic components have operating temperature ranges, too. Too hot and chips overheat and even may fuse, capacitators may blow, etc. Too low and the current properties change, capacitators stop working, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ I thought about this as well for a second, but I believe that before there isn't any lubricant one can use and all electronics stop working, people would stop working as well. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 20 '17 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 -- yeah, people build electronics packages that get sent down oil wells with temps up to 200degC $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Aug 20 '17 at 23:33
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Your question is far too broad. You want to prevent both gunpowder and microprocessor operation? Well, consider Venus or perhaps living in the atmosphere of Jupiter or under the ice of Ganymede. As far as an environment in which humans can survive? I can't think of any in which we could survive and yet we couldn't design a gun to operate in. They'd be nearly useless in an oxygen rich underwater world (some (synthetic) liquids can hold enough oxygen for us to breath (arguable whether it would allow long term survival, but maybe we'd have tech for that...)). The lower explosive limit for hydrogen is 4%, but say 3% would do major damage to a lot of our technology. I'd guess it wouldn't be all that toxic to us, but I don't know that for sure. LD50 for rats is ">1.5%" but 2% and 99.2% are both greater than 1.5 and there's a big difference between them. Hydrogen does a number on metals, I sure wouldn't want to use a gun exposed to high levels of it (it weakens steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and others). A really technologically nasty but possibly survivable atmosphere would be one containing a few % hydrogen and hey why not add some graphite dust (which would tend to short out electronics (if not really well sealed)?

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure you get what I am asking. I didn't say gunpowder doesn't work. I said projectile weapons should not be feasible due to the environment. I have that mostly nailed down. I'm more interested in preventing tech working in the desert. $\endgroup$ – MajorTom Aug 20 '17 at 23:04
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Possibly a planet with no metal to forge into weapons. albeit you could still use sticks and stones, it would be a far less dangerous world. That also solves your communication problems, no metal means no communication devices. Only metal they would have available is the metal that brought them there, and the metal they brought with them. Because I cant think of a way to make them unreliable and yet still support human life, a planet with no metal would provide a stalemate on any war. bullets are limited, swords and machete's would be rare.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, the colonists can bring metal. It doesn't have to be there. $\endgroup$ – MajorTom Aug 20 '17 at 23:05

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